Pilgrimage: The Road to Rome

Greg Rutherford

There were highs; the camaraderie between us all, the amazing people we got to meet, the beautiful scenery and unwavering hospitality from strangers along the way.Greg Rutherford
Date: 05.04.2019     Last updated: 05.04.2019 at 16.55
Category: BBC Two; Factual

Why did you decide to join the pilgrimage?

As someone who’s always been fascinated by history, I saw it as a fantastic opportunity to walk a well-chronicled route in person. I knew it would be something I probably wouldn’t choose to do with my family (with two young children) so it was an opportunity for me to immerse myself in a part of history with a group of strangers I’d hopefully learn something from.

Have you ever taken part in anything like this before?

No and I think that’s part of the reason why it’s such a great show. I never really considered going on a pilgrimage would be something a non-religious person can do but it’s open to everyone and anyone and having done it, I couldn't recommend it more.

Did you have to prepare in advance for the pilgrimage?

In terms of mentally, no. I knew I’d miss my family but we’re used to having miles between us thanks to my sporting career so it wasn’t completely out of the ordinary not to be at home. Physically, aside from the injuries which had forced me into retirement, I felt fit and capable so didn’t amp up my activity beforehand. It was however quite a challenge knowing what to pack for each day and how best to get some shut eye each night!

Have you ever walked this far before?

No and we really did end up covering some miles!

Myself and Brendan Cole in particular, really took it upon ourselves to try to lead the team and push through each day to cover some ground.

Did you find it hard? A challenge? Fun?
It was all those things and more. There were highs; the camaraderie between us all, the amazing people we got to meet, the beautiful scenery and unwavering hospitality from strangers along the way. It was so appreciated how people would treat us, unexpected but massively appreciated. We’d turn up after a long day to be provided with food, drink and a place to sleep. It seems very far removed from normal society and really gave us a taste of what the pilgrims might have experienced. But there were nights we barely slept and I was often very hungry; it was a baptism of fire when we crossed the border in to Italy when we found ourselves living off dried bread and a measly serving of Nutella!

Tell me about your experience on the series?

It was on the whole very positive and enjoyable. From pushing my body to its limits in ways it wasn't used to, battling for the comfiest bed, finding incredible scenery on the way and forming solid friendships.

What was your highlight?

Feeling closer to history; you can read all the books available but actually living it brings you a much greater understanding. To focus in on one moment; getting myself Stephen, Les and Brendan to cover 18k in three hours!

What was the hardest part?

Lack of home comforts which, in turn, led to lack of sleep. We never knew what we’d be faced with in terms of bedding down for the night and meals, so sometimes you could find yourself with a long stretch ahead of you while really quite tired and hungry.

Are you affiliated to any religion?

Affiliated, no. But I was brought up in a family of Jehovah’s Witnesses and that’s been fairly well documented in the press. I’m not practising now, however.

If you don’t have any faith, are you atheist/agnostic? What helps you explain the world?

While not being able to pinpoint a religion, I wouldn’t describe myself as an atheist. I’m spiritual to a certain degree and fully respect everyone’s take on faith. It’s very subjective and personal.

Has the experience changed or increased your faith?

I wouldn’t say so, no. I enjoyed my time on the show and have come away with a fantastic experience under my belt.

Has the experience changed you in any way?

Not especially but I think it came at a valuable time for me, days after publicly announcing my retirement, and it enabled me time alone for introspection and readjustment.

How did you get on with the other pilgrims? Was it a bonding experience for you all?

I got on with each and every member brilliantly well. I already knew Lesley and Brendan from our Strictly days together but this was obviously much more personal and intimate. Even though we come from very different walks of life, different ages, professions, religions etc; I can safely say I made friends in them all and we still all keep in contact.

Describe your experience meeting the Pope. What was that like?

Before going in, I was admittedly quite blasé about meeting the Pope. While being non-religious and non-Catholic, I obviously still appreciated the gravitas but it wasn’t until we entered the room that I can only describe it as a pressure cooker. I became aware very quickly that my emotions were surfacing, especially when Stephen K Amos (who’d become my closest companion) became emotional too and it really was an incredibly surreal moment.

Would you do it again?

Actually I’d like to do it in full, from Canterbury, on a bike. I’ve already mentioned it to other cycling friends and hopefully we can put the wheels in motion over the next few years.